How the quest for the perfect RPG for kids resulted in magic!
One warm weekend in the middle of April this year, I lay on the sofa flipping through Torchbearer RPG, wondering if it was simple enough to play with my 10-year-old son. Yes, I know, wishful thinking!
My past two attempts months back at DMing the starter adventure of escorting provisions to Phandalin in the Forgotten Realms ended in the quick deaths of two fighters. Despite my son's ability to beat me occasionally in Dominion, solo-play in D&D 5e--an RPG which is hard on level 1 characters and best played with a party--was too emotionally draining.
Motivated to find a simple RPG to play with a kid, I came up with a set of criteria: it must be playable by two players, not have long drawn out campaigns (Who has time anymore?), and have a simple rule set. Then I went in search of an RPG that fit. A colleague at the video game development studio where I work, pointed out rolling lots of dice is really fun, so I added that to the list as well. Gamescape North, a local game shop, suggested Catan or Munchkin for its simplicity. Since we are developing a CCG RPG at work and we already had Dominion at home, I added "no cards" to the requirements in order to have a change of pace at home. They also pointed me to a sci-fi game that had lots of dice, but I wanted high fantasy in order to feed my nostalgia of D&D.
If my perfect, simple RPG didn't exist locally, maybe it existed somewhere in the world? After days of searching on RPG Geek and Board Game Geek, I found a few indie games, which on deeper investigation failed the criteria. Plus, in the middle of the research, I realized I wanted a GM-less game, so I wouldn't control the adventure. Pondering it more, I kept adding criteria. The bar became higher and higher, but I didn't want to give up on finding the perfect match.
So, if I couldn't buy it, I would make the perfect RPG to play with kids. (Yep, wishful thinking!) After coming up with a simple RPG concept that met all the criteria, the two of us built a prototype, named it 'Knight vs Dragon' for the lack of a better name at the time, did a few playtests, and settled on a stable set of rules. When my son said, “That was a lot of fun! Can we play KvD again tomorrow?” I knew we had just crafted a magic item!